Forming east of SH 21 near Devil's Knob and flowing about 20 miles southeast through Hagarville to Lake Dardanelle is Little Piney Creek, a smaller and slightly more gentle version of its sister, Big Piney Creek. Little Piney is a Class I to II, moderate whitewater stream of incredible natural beauty in the Ozark National Forest of Johnson County. Like Big Piney, much of the adjoining land is privately owned, and paddlers should take care to avoid unnecessary trespassing. The creek is characterized by the creme de menthe colored water often found on northern Arkansas waterways flowing through willow jungles, rocky shoals and boulder garden rapids.
Typical runs begin at about 2,335 feet msl near Mt. Levi at the junction of NFR 1004 and SH 123, ending about 12 miles downstream at Hagarville just above Lake Dardanelle. Rapids on Little Piney Creek pose no significant hazards for competent boaters, but willow strainers and debris piles from dead-fallen trees can be a problem, and are usually a nuisance that temporarily hinders navigation, sometimes necessitating stopping to scout for a channel through which to paddle, portage or line your boat. SH 123 offers access to the creek about 5 miles below the NFR 1004 put-in, allowing for trips of 5, 7 or 12 miles. There are no campgrounds along Little Piney Creek, but one USFS and one commercial campground nearby offer excellent base campsites for visitors to this area. In addition to Big Piney Creek, other great boating waterways in close proximity include the Mulberry, Buffalo, Kings, Petit Jean, White and Little Red Rivers, Richland, Cadron, Crooked, Falling Water, Cub, Fall, Hurricane, Lee, War Eagle and Shoal Creeks, Frog and Illinois Bayous and many other beautiful Arkansas Ozarks waterways. This area is truly a paddler's Mecca!
Johnson County of northwestern Arkansas very near the Oklahoma State Line and just a few miles south of the Missouri State Line. Fort Smith is less than an hour to the west and Fayetteville is about 1.5 hours to the northwest.
Fayetteville 70 miles; Fort Smith 100 miles; Little Rock 133 miles;Texarkana 277 miles: Kansas City 421 miles; Oklahoma City 280 miles; Dallas 460 miles; Austin 650 miles; San Antonio 730 miles; Houston 569 miles; Albuquerque 822 miles; Phoenix 1,280 miles; Denver 905 miles; Salt Lake City 1,439 miles (all distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, destination at the river and route taken.)
Water quality is usually good to very good, with a milky green coloration typical of waterways in this part of Arkansas. Flows are heavily dependent upon recent local rainfall to reach navigable levels. Late-fall through late-spring months normally offer the best conditions, though days will be cool to cold and nights will be very cold, often below freezing - dress for the conditions, especially if you plan on falling out of your canoe or Eskimo rolling your kayak!
The prime times to catch a good flow on Little Piney Creek is a day or two after heavy rainfall in the drainage basin around the Buffalo, Mulberry, Big Piney Creek and Little Piney Creek watershed. Typically, these conditions will be found in mid-October through late-November and from late-February through late-April. Rare though they may be, summer showers can also produce boatable levels in the creek.
There are no significant rapids of concern on Little Piney Creek. However, many willow strainers and dead-fallen trees in the creekbed can pose hazards to boats and paddlers. As flows increase the need for quick and strong control maneuvers are necessary to avoid pinning and/or wrapping. The water is usually cold when navigable flows exist, so paddlers should dress in non-cotton clothing, and winter paddlers should wear wetsuits or drysuits with a water-repelling base layer to prevent hypothermia.
SH 123 / NFR 1004 intersection at 0.0 miles; SH 123 access at about 5.0 miles; SH 123 about 2 miles north of Hagarville at about 12.0 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of Little Piney Creek.
There are no campgrounds located on Little Piney Creek, and much of the adjoining land is privately owned, so avoid camping along the creek unless you have first obtained landowner permission. Nearby campsites include: Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area (USFS) off SH 123 near Fort Douglas offers excellent campground facilities; Long Pool Campground (USFS) at the end of CR 15 at Big Piney Creek offers excellent campground facilities; Moore Outdoors (501-331-3606); Lake Dardanelle State Park on the Arkansas River near Russellville offers excellent campground facilities and other amenities. There are two other USFS campgrounds near Big Piney Creek: Rotary Ann Campground, on SH 7 south of SH 123 in Pope County, offers excellent campgrounds east of the creek, and Ozone Campground on SH 21 south of SH 123 in Johnson County near Little Piney Creek, offers excellent campgrounds east of the creek.
There is at least one commercial outfitter located on Big Piney Creek near Little Piney Creek. Unless planning to contract for rentals and/or shuttles bring your own boats and gear, and run your own shuttles. Because of the lay of the land, allow adequate time for setting up your shuttles. Driving distance will be much further than the downriver distance you will paddle.
Little sister is much like her big sister, except that Little Piney Creek does not flow quite as consistently as Big Piney, which in itself is not a reliable paddling destination. The creek is rich in raw, natural beauty, where wildlife, birdlife and plantlife dominate the landscape. The rapids are interesting, but not particularly challenging Class I to II boulder gardens that are a piece of cake for experienced whitewater boaters, but watch out for willow strainers (they are everywhere!) and dead-fall debris traps below and/or above the waterline. What you do NOT see CAN cause you problems, especially when the water is cold and the air temperature is colder. If you are fortunate enough to catch Little Piney when she is ready to play, then you will have a truly enjoyable paddle trip that will probably rate among your favorites for its scenery, if not for its big drops and technical difficulty. One thing is certain - you will NOT be paddling in a traffic jam on Little Piney Creek, and anybody you do find there will most likely be an experienced boater. Be aware of the fact that, if you paddle this stream in winter, your thin (2mm or 3mm) Neoprene wetsuit alone will NOT suffice to protect you from the cold water temperatures. A 5mm suit with a Capalon, Gore-Tex or similar base layer is strongly recommended for winter paddling on this, or any other northern Arkansas stream between November and late-April. Bring your camera, but protect in in a waterproof, bump-resistant carrier such as a Pelican case, and securely lash it to your boat.